Life Technology

Limiting The Future

Marco Arment posted some commentary to Matt Gemmell’s The Unacknowledged Compromise. While I’m not sure I disagree with much that was posted by the two gentlemen, the footnote added by Marco rubbed me the wrong way.

If you can’t afford both an iPad and a laptop, and you’re technically proficient enough to enjoy my site, you probably shouldn’t get an iPad at all.

You’d probably be better served getting a laptop (as your only computer) first, a smartphone second, and maybe an e-ink Kindle if you want a bigger screen for portable reading.

A lot of what he wrote is true, but I think it definitely underestimates just how much better something like an iPad can be for traveling.

It isn’t just the size of the device, or the fact that it doesn’t have a hinge, or the fact that the accessories are so much smaller for the iPad (compare a MacBook power adapter to the iPad charger). Those are all things in the iPad’s favor.

It is how you pack that changes when you move from a laptop to a tablet. A tablet is something you can add to any bag without needing to bring anything extra along. You limit the amount of stuff you need to bring along to be productive. I have my iPad mini in a case so, along with the power adapter, that’s all I need to bring along and I’m set. I can toss that into any bag that I might bring along on a trip or just carry it sans a bag.

That’s a big shift.

With a laptop I bring along a power adapter, an extension cord for the power adapter (because if you hang that power adapter on a wall it is going to take up too much space),  a mouse, an external hard drive with my “work”, another power adapter for my phone … you see where I’m going.

I had forgotten about that. The same charger for my iPad can double as a charger for my iPhone. That doesn’t even bring into account the idea that I can have LTE connectivity built into my iPad so that I am completely untethered. Those are big wins.

The reason we need laptops and desktops right now is because almost every single workflow we have right now is built around laptops, desktops, windowed operating systems, etc. OF COURSE they’d be easier to do on those devices, it only makes sense.

However, let’s not think that it will always be this way or even that it needs to be right now. Already email is easier for me to handle on an iPad or iPhone than on my desktop and media is easier to deal with on those devices as well. More and more we are going to see (here’s that word again) a stratification of tasks, workflows, and devices based on what they are best at.

I will state that we are not there yet and things are just STARTING to happen, but there is no way we are going to know what to do if we don’t try to push the boundaries a little bit. Pushing the boundaries can sometimes be annoying at first, but that is the only way to truly find the pain points.

This isn’t just about iPads and iPhones and MacBooks … but about the general tension between the mobile devices we are seeing now and the general computing devices many of us are used to from the past.

4 replies on “Limiting The Future”

I had great conversations with a co-worker and separately with a client about hardware recently. As technologists, we recognize there’s very compelling reasons why this or that device is better suited for such and such a task. We approach it very logically and in much the same way any trades-person might pick a type of wrench for a task. Often we consider this the “right way” to choose a device.

The reality is that, for most non-technical folk, the hardware is a shiny portal into the magical world of software. It’s the tangible interface that they see and use in order to transport themselves into the black box of programs and intarwebz. They don’t understand software at all – it’s truly magic. The hardware is something they CAN control so it becomes a very personal and emotional choice. It becomes a fashion choice almost. We can tell people they shouldn’t be using an iPad because, come on, you’re just nuts to try to do a laptop task with an internet consumption device. To the average user, though, that’s not how they see it. They want the popular accessory to access the MAGIC.

It’s hard as I try to steer people to the most appropriate hardware for the type of tasks they want to perform. I see tools, they see OHHHH Shiny! Their reaction is normal and the emotional attachment to the tangible interface should not be discounted. The way people feel about how they work and play is often as important as how it is accomplished. We’re all human after all.

I agree, however, that we should still try to fit the correct tool to the task…it prevents the inevitable frustration that happens later when it’s hard to do something because of the hardware limitations.

I’ve seen that same thing, and I think that as “rational technologists” we do a disservice to everyone, including ourselves, when we discredit in our minds what other feel or think about devices. We might have more experience but that’s the problem … we only have our experience!

Sometimes by working within artificial constraints we can come up with better solutions. Take readability of website for example. By taking into consideration that your website might be viewed on a phone or tablet you are forced to make certain decisions about what goes there. Those decisions, however, can also have a positive effect on the desktop experience because instead of thinking “I have all of this space” we are thinking “I need to make decisions”. That’s just one example of constraints leading to better results.

I want to fallback often on my past experience and my own personal choices, but I need to temper that with the idea that sometimes, others might just have a better idea of what should be used.

The cool thing is that this provides plenty of opportunities to do really cool stuff in the server rooms to enable this sort of flexibility.

It is true, and it might never be, but we aren’t going to know that for a while. Computers stunk for a lot of things in the past as well, but then we built workflows around them … and now we have the cobbled-together world we have at the moment.

We are seeing the same thing play out again, just faster.

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